The Visionary Freedom Fund Announces Inaugural Cohort of Grant Recipients in Grantmaking Led by Youth Organizers to Transform Youth Justice System

VFF distributes $2.5 million to 26 youth-led groups transforming the justice system and invites donors to join the movement to fund all 600 applicants

NEW YORK — The Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) today announced its inaugural cohort of grant  recipients, distributing $2.5 million over two years to resource 26 youth-led organizations on the frontlines of transforming the youth justice system. 

“Young people are articulating solutions and realizing wins to end our nation’s systemic punishment, criminalization and violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous youth,” said Manuela Arciniegas, director of the Andrus Family Fund, which launched the Visionary Freedom Fund. “Yet, few funders support youth justice movements, let alone give young people a say in what gets funded. In response, the Visionary Freedom Fund formed the Power Table where youth organizers collaborate with movement leaders and funders to set the grantmaking strategy and determine how VFF’s resources are deployed. Power Table members know firsthand what’s wrong with the youth justice system and what their communities need, so they’ve funded an inspiring  group of grantees.”

Selected by the VFF’s Power Table of eight youth organizers, four adult movement leaders and 11 funders, this first round of two-year general operating grants will help organizations advance their long-term visions for a youth justice system that helps, not harms, young people, communities and society. All organizations and projects are led by Black, Immigrant, Indigenous, Queer and Trans and AAPI communities. The grantees are working on a range of efforts, including abolition, restorative justice, calls to divest from policing and prisons and invest in vital community services and building the leadership and power of young people.  

“We know that the youth legal system has to change and that youth organizers like myself, who are impacted by this issue, have the necessary analysis and vision for how best to transform it long term,” said Andrea Colon, a youth organizer member of the Power Table and co-director of Sis & Non-Cis. 

“As youth movement leaders, often we’re told to sit back and hope that our calls for funding and support will reach the right ears without a chance to have a voice in the process of distributing funds. So I was thrilled to seize the opportunity to lend my voice to the Power Table to help maximize the impact of these grants and support as many incredibly transformative groups as possible,” said Jemima Abalogu, former youth justice ambassador at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

“We are proud to kick off the Visionary Freedom Fund with this inaugural cohort of grantees and we are humbled by the overwhelming amount of interest and applicants,” said Bryan Perlmutter, VFF’s project coordinator. 

“We are inspired by the innovative leadership of youth organizers supporting their communities and carving out paths towards collective healing,” said Jessica Pierce, VFF’s project coordinator. The impressive pool of applicants makes clear that young people across the country are not only seeking resources for transformative change, but they are also fundamentally community leaders who are building a vision for a future that is for everyone.” 

VFF received more than 600 applications from youth organizations across the nation, representing a variety of innovative approaches to transform the justice system—from campaigns and leadership development to healing justice, arts and community building efforts. “I have been supporting youth organizers across 14 states to build state campaigns and close prisons. Knowing that there were 600 organizations doing similar powerful work just reveals the glaring funding gap that we must all galvanize to close,” said Hernan Carvente-Martinez, national youth partner strategist at Youth First Initiative.

“As a funding community, we have the opportunity to fund all 600 applicants if we can raise an additional $24 million,” said Erik Stegman, director of Native Americans in Philanthropy, an adult movement and philanthropic leader at the Power Table. “Investing in youth traditionally left out of philanthropic resources, like Native youth, gender expansive youth, women and girls or Black youth, is a must for philanthropy. They carry the burden, live the impact and are the untapped and underinvested visionaries for change.” 

“Together, by pooling our resources, we can boldly transfer power to young people and ensure that resources are deployed precisely to where and to whom needs them the most,” said Loan Tran, adult movement leader at the Power Table and co-chair of the Third Wave Fund advisory council. “We invite funders and donors to join the Visionary Freedom Fund and our learning community at affund.org/visionaryfreedomfund.”

You can also learn more about VFF on the latest episode of the Out Of The Margins podcast. In this episode, you’ll hear from members of the Power Table, including one of its youth leaders, and learn about the importance of funding youth-led organizing, the grantmaking process and lessons learned along the way.

The 26 organizations selected for VFF’s inaugural cohort are:

###

About the Visionary Freedom Fund:
The Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) seeks to ensure that frontline communities have the resources, capacities, supports, infrastructure and relationships that they need to develop and implement inspiring long-term strategies to transform the youth justice system. VFF’s Power Table is a youth-led collective whose members come together to inform values-aligned funders about how to support their long-term visions for youth justice. Together, they will help transform the way philanthropy partners with frontline communities by creating equal representation at the table where grantmaking strategies and decisions are made. VFF’s philanthropic partners include the Akonadi, Hazen, Heising Simons, Libra, Ms., Perrin Family, Pinkerton, Satterberg and Public Welfare foundations, as well as Wellspring Philanthropic Fund and the Andrus Family Fund. Learn more at affund.org/visionaryfreedomfund

About the Andrus Family Fund:
The Andrus Family Fund (AFF), a program of the Surdna Foundation, is a leading national social justice funder that believes that young people deserve more than one opportunity at a good, sustainable life. AFF supports youth ages 16-24 who are impacted by child welfare, youth justice or other disruptive systems. Learn more at affund.org

The Visionary Freedom Fund Announces Inaugural Cohort of Grant Recipients in Grantmaking Led by Youth Organizers to Transform Youth Justice System

VFF distributes $2.5 million to 26 youth-led groups transforming the justice system and invites donors to join the movement to fund all 600 applicants

NEW YORK — The Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) today announced its inaugural cohort of grant  recipients, distributing $2.5 million over two years to resource 26 youth-led organizations on the frontlines of transforming the youth justice system. 

“Young people are articulating solutions and realizing wins to end our nation’s systemic punishment, criminalization and violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous youth,” said Manuela Arciniegas, director of the Andrus Family Fund, which launched the Visionary Freedom Fund. “Yet, few funders support youth justice movements, let alone give young people a say in what gets funded. In response, the Visionary Freedom Fund formed the Power Table where youth organizers collaborate with movement leaders and funders to set the grantmaking strategy and determine how VFF’s resources are deployed. Power Table members know firsthand what’s wrong with the youth justice system and what their communities need, so they’ve funded an inspiring  group of grantees.”

Selected by the VFF’s Power Table of eight youth organizers, four adult movement leaders and 11 funders, this first round of two-year general operating grants will help organizations advance their long-term visions for a youth justice system that helps, not harms, young people, communities and society. All organizations and projects are led by Black, Immigrant, Indigenous, Queer and Trans and AAPI communities. The grantees are working on a range of efforts, including abolition, restorative justice, calls to divest from policing and prisons and invest in vital community services and building the leadership and power of young people.  

“We know that the youth legal system has to change and that youth organizers like myself, who are impacted by this issue, have the necessary analysis and vision for how best to transform it long term,” said Andrea Colon, a youth organizer member of the Power Table and co-director of Sis & Non-Cis. 

“As youth movement leaders, often we’re told to sit back and hope that our calls for funding and support will reach the right ears without a chance to have a voice in the process of distributing funds. So I was thrilled to seize the opportunity to lend my voice to the Power Table to help maximize the impact of these grants and support as many incredibly transformative groups as possible,” said Jemima Abalogu, former youth justice ambassador at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

“We are proud to kick off the Visionary Freedom Fund with this inaugural cohort of grantees and we are humbled by the overwhelming amount of interest and applicants,” said Bryan Perlmutter, VFF’s project coordinator. 

“We are inspired by the innovative leadership of youth organizers supporting their communities and carving out paths towards collective healing,” said Jessica Pierce, VFF’s project coordinator. The impressive pool of applicants makes clear that young people across the country are not only seeking resources for transformative change, but they are also fundamentally community leaders who are building a vision for a future that is for everyone.” 

VFF received more than 600 applications from youth organizations across the nation, representing a variety of innovative approaches to transform the justice system—from campaigns and leadership development to healing justice, arts and community building efforts. “I have been supporting youth organizers across 14 states to build state campaigns and close prisons. Knowing that there were 600 organizations doing similar powerful work just reveals the glaring funding gap that we must all galvanize to close,” said Hernan Carvente-Martinez, national youth partner strategist at Youth First Initiative.

“As a funding community, we have the opportunity to fund all 600 applicants if we can raise an additional $24 million,” said Erik Stegman, director of Native Americans in Philanthropy, an adult movement and philanthropic leader at the Power Table. “Investing in youth traditionally left out of philanthropic resources, like Native youth, gender expansive youth, women and girls or Black youth, is a must for philanthropy. They carry the burden, live the impact and are the untapped and underinvested visionaries for change.” 

“Together, by pooling our resources, we can boldly transfer power to young people and ensure that resources are deployed precisely to where and to whom needs them the most,” said Loan Tran, adult movement leader at the Power Table and co-chair of the Third Wave Fund advisory council. “We invite funders and donors to join the Visionary Freedom Fund and our learning community at affund.org/visionaryfreedomfund.”

You can also learn more about VFF on the latest episode of the Out Of The Margins podcast. In this episode, you’ll hear from members of the Power Table, including one of its youth leaders, and learn about the importance of funding youth-led organizing, the grantmaking process and lessons learned along the way.

The 26 organizations selected for VFF’s inaugural cohort are:

###

About the Visionary Freedom Fund:
The Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) seeks to ensure that frontline communities have the resources, capacities, supports, infrastructure and relationships that they need to develop and implement inspiring long-term strategies to transform the youth justice system. VFF’s Power Table is a youth-led collective whose members come together to inform values-aligned funders about how to support their long-term visions for youth justice. Together, they will help transform the way philanthropy partners with frontline communities by creating equal representation at the table where grantmaking strategies and decisions are made. VFF’s philanthropic partners include the Akonadi, Hazen, Heising Simons, Libra, Ms., Perrin Family, Pinkerton, Satterberg and Public Welfare foundations, as well as Wellspring Philanthropic Fund and the Andrus Family Fund. Learn more at affund.org/visionaryfreedomfund

About the Andrus Family Fund:
The Andrus Family Fund (AFF), a program of the Surdna Foundation, is a leading national social justice funder that believes that young people deserve more than one opportunity at a good, sustainable life. AFF supports youth ages 16-24 who are impacted by child welfare, youth justice or other disruptive systems. Learn more at affund.org

Continuing to Diversify our Board Toward Equitable Grantmaking

In 2017, the Andrus Family Fund welcomed our first cohort of community members, ushering in a new era of next-gen philanthropic leadership. We have since elected our first community member, C’Ardiss “CC” Gardner Gleser, to serve as Board Chair — the only Black woman to do so in AFF history. Under her leadership, AFF family and community board members have continued to advance trust-based philanthropic practices, racial equity and social justice grantmaking led by youth impacted by child welfare, youth justice and other harmful systems. Now, we have the opportunity to bring even more wisdom and lived experiences to the table by inviting four new community members, as well as one family member, to our board.

“The fight for racial justice requires all hands on deck, and it is integral that BIPOC, directly impacted, next-generation leaders are in a position to strategically direct the flow of philanthropic resources to communities. I am proud of the Andrus Family Fund’s commitment to sharing power and stepping into more accountability through these newly elected board members. These inspiring leaders embody a deep dedication to youth, transformative change and true power building.”
— Manuela Arciniegas, Director of the Andrus Family Fund

This new chapter at the Andrus Family Fund is a testament of our commitment to lean into more participatory grantmaking in order to shift power to directly-impacted leaders. Our board is a reflection of that commitment. As we continue to evolve as a funder, building a more inclusive board will make us more accountable to the communities we serve.

“One of the most powerful actions a family foundation board can take is to share its power with community members. It allows your foundation to be more responsive to grantee needs and move resources precisely where communities need them. The Andrus Family Fund has reimagined its board in service of its mission. It’s an innovative governance model for family philanthropy that centers racial equity in a concrete and authentic way.”
— Kelly Nowlin, Chair of the Andrus Family Philanthropy Program and Surdna Board Member

We entrusted two consulting firms founded and led by women of color to aid us in our nationwide search for community members: Forward Movement and Movement Talent. We are grateful that they introduced us to our 2021 cohort of social justice leaders.

Jesus Gonzalez

Jesus Gonzalez
Jesus is a social political analyst, organizing strategist and Puerto Rican activist. He is one of the founding members of Make the Road New York (an AFF grantee partner), where he began as a Youth Organizer and later as its Political Director. Jesus currently serves as the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Center for Popular Democracy (also an AFF grantee partner).

“Youth organizing has consistently been the spark that lights the flame in social justice movements. That fire that’s needed to make the necessary changes for communities of color throughout our country. Andrus is right there beside them, to nurture and support their leadership. I’m honored to join the board and help amplify the fund’s mission.”

Daryl Hannah
Daryl Hannah
Daryl is the Senior Director for Narrative Strategy with the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE). Prior to joining AFRE, Daryl was a Vice President at BerlinRosen, where he led strategic arts, media and culture campaigns to advance racial equity for non-profits, international foundations and cultural institutions.

“At a time when the dignity and rights of young people of color are under attack, it’s more important than ever to support organizations leading direct service, community organizing, advocacy and other capacity building efforts that connect young people to the positive supports and resources needed for long and successful lives. I’m honored to join the AFF board and to support the Fund’s bold reimagining of philanthropy and social justice.”

Elizabeth Olsson

Elizabeth Olsson
Elizabeth has over 15 years of experience working with diverse groups of stakeholders to advance education equity and improve outcomes for marginalized children and youth. She recently served as a Senior Program and Policy Specialist for the National Education Association (NEA). Elizabeth earned a Master of Public Administration from New York University and a Master of Teaching from PACE University.

“I’m excited by AFF’s mission to foster just and sustainable change by supporting organizations working to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth. I’m eager to leverage my experience working with directly impacted youth and families to advance systems change to inform and support the Fund’s strategic direction as a community board member.”

Marcus PopeMarcus Pope
Marcus is the Vice President of Youthprise in Minnesota, where he oversees grantmaking, development, policy advocacy, communications and special initiatives in service of young people. He currently sits on the board of directors for the Minnesota Council on Foundations and the Mardag Foundation, serves as Trustee for Wallin Education Partners, the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, Co-chair of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood Community Council, and member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the U of M College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

“It’s an honor to serve as a new board member for the Andrus Family Fund. I look forward to helping advance the Fund’s inspiring work that is truly a game changer for promising youth and the organizations that serve them.”

Zelpha WilliamsZelpha Williams
Zelpha is a family member who participated in the Andrus Family Philanthropy Program, BETs, twice. She is a Johns Hopkins University graduate and taught high school mathematics through Teach for America at City on a Hill Charter School in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Zelpha is currently pursuing a law degree at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

“When it comes to advancing racial justice, it’s not only about what you fund; it’s also about how you fund and who is at the table. I’m delighted to welcome the Andrus Family Fund’s newest community and family board members. Together they bring the knowledge, community connections and diverse perspectives to make AFF’s grantmaking even more impactful.”
— Don Chen, President of the Surdna Foundation

AFF Board Member & AFF Consultant Develop A Racial Justice Curriculum for Family Foundations

The National Center for Family Philanthropy has launched the Racial Justice Learning and Action Network to deepen engagement with issues of race in philanthropy. NCFP fellows conducted community interviews to explore the reasons why trustees wanted to engage in racial justice learning. Former AFF board member Lindsey Griffith contributed to the interviews, while AFF consultant/trainer Bari Katz and AFF Board member Edgar Villanueva have been chosen to guide the curriculum design with the trustees who will participate in the network.

Read more about their impactful work here.

How AFF’s Inaugural Movement Partner Advisory Council Will Help Build A More Aligned, Liberated Philanthropic Practice

Recently, movement leaders, board members and AFF staff gathered (virtually) for our annual board meeting. This meeting was a historic occasion for our fund because we welcomed our first cohort of Movement Partner Advisory Council members — a group of AFF grantee partners focused on youth justice child welfare policy that will collectively craft AFF’s strategic plan for the next 5 years.

MPAC & AFF Board

That day, we took another step toward making good on the lofty goals we identified last year during our board retreat at the Highlander Center with Reverend Allyn-Steele and Ash-Lee Woodard-Henderson. The three goals:

  1. Support the field’s demand to close youth prisons in 10 years and assist movement partners in ending the over-criminalization of BIPOC youth nationwide.
  2. Move more money to grassroots frontline movements.
  3. Help organize philanthropy to follow the lead of movement communities.

On that day, I asked the group to hold up four words: Community, Alignment, Power and Strategy.

Community in this context means that movement leaders and board members sit together (virtually) to explore how real change happens and how we can do our best work together. Through the expert facilitation of Rusia Mohiuddin, we are creating a culture of collaboration and connection that builds the power of movement organizations. Community also means grappling with the inherently flawed and unjust system of philanthropy and the toxic power dynamic it creates between movement partners and funders. In community, we discuss the places where we’re politically aligned and where we are misaligned in our vision of how change happens. In other words, in community, we learn what transformative change actually looks like.

Why do these encounters of board and movement leaders rarely happen? One major reason is because funders have never been held accountable to communities as stakeholders. It is standard practice for boards to approve strategies that are designed by program officers and directors who often do not collaborate with the communities they intend to serve. The other reason for the rare encounters is because movement partners are incredibly busy! Their time and brilliance are spent on the frontlines pushing for racial justice and building power for young people, and we take that commitment very seriously. But one thing we’ve all come to agree upon is that more authentic proximity — not less — will help us do our most aligned and impactful work. If we are to practice being in a more equitable, transformative relationship with one another — one rooted in interdependence, transformation, learning and grounded in the courage to change — then we have to foster a rigorous, long-term practice that is truly beneficial for communities, not just beneficial to funders who prioritize “learning” above action.

Alignment with today’s work is to follow the leadership of those directly impacted at the center. Not because funders and movements aren’t already aligned in racial justice values — although sometimes there’s a difference between espoused and practiced values — but because we are continuously refining our understanding and practice — PRAXIS — of who should lead and how to support them. The deployment and reclaiming of much-needed resources to support movements to actualize their visions is a necessary part of transformative change work. Bringing together those with the resources and those who need them, and building a practice rooted in anti-racism, healing, and transformation is a rigorous yet necessary endeavor. I believe this proximity between funders and movements will produce political clarity, sharpened focus and, dare I say, impact. Not just impact in communities, families and organizations, but also our own impact as philanthropic allies.

The heart of this work is not an intellectual exercise, but a personal commitment to examine how each one of us is personally implicated in the exploitation of another. Many of us — it is inevitable — are both the oppressed and oppressor in a society whose foundations were built on stolen land, slavery and extractive capitalism. We are here to do the hard work together, as Darnell Moore said in the “Black Freedom Dream” episode of the “Lady Don’t Take No” podcast hosted by Alicia Garza, of getting the “boot off the neck” of the person we are in an oppressive relationship with. Our collective liberation lies in the courageous work of seeing both the privilege and oppression and taking accountability for harm prevention. I invite you to step into self-care, compassion and courage as we witness the dimensions of ourselves (as funders or movement leaders) that we are often afraid to acknowledge — to own and transform our behaviors, and ultimately, our impact.

Finally, our time together is intended to build Power for directly-impacted youth and their communities. Despite the power dynamics between us–funders and movement leaders-–our collaboration is meant to interrogate and transfer power to where it is needed. Who has power in the legislative halls? Who is holding narrative and moral power? How does power show up on the blocks and streets where youth and communities are surviving and seeking to thrive? Who has the power to change the rules and relieve the material and social conditions of marginalized youth? To truly make good on our vision of liberation? Who has the power of resources and capital to ensure these visions come to life and how will they deploy it?

We have the opportunity to build a Strategy that is a model for the broader philanthropic community. A model that firmly believes community must be at the table to inform, lead and design the strategies meant to build long-term community power. Although we proudly see staff as advocates and champions who are often also directly impacted, we are well aware that staff should not be a proxy for directly-impacted communities and leaders. We affirm that it is sophisticated, intelligent and darn right strategic to build philanthropic structures meant to support and strengthen communities’ expertise and position them at the helm.

We are excited for our time together this coming year and hope that the rich conversations and thought partnership between staff, board members and movement partners will transform us all. Our ultimate hope is that the change we create together will live on in our philanthropic structures, policies and culture.

Let’s stay in deep awareness and enjoy building the spaceship for liberated futures we needed yesterday. It all starts with one step, one conversation, one Zoom icebreaker at a time.

Welcome in accountable love, community!

Social Justice Philanthropy Toolkit

Our curriculum introduces social justice principles and themes, as well as explores the importance of having these values live deeply within philanthropy. However, the lessons in this curriculum are not limited to youth philanthropy programs. They have the opportunity to impact anyone who is committed to social justice and equity. We envision teachers, community-based organizations, philanthropic institutions and others taking this work and helping re-create the vision of what community and social justice philanthropy looks like. Access our Social Justice Philanthropy Toolkit.

Nothing About Us Without Us: AFF Welcomes Movement Partner Advisory Council

“Nothing about us without us.”
James Charlton, Disability Rights Movement Author

Dear Community,

After 20 years of philanthropic work, AFF is excited to announce the launch of the inaugural cohort of Movement Partner Advisory Council (MPAC). AFF welcomes 2021 with the goal of entering into a more accountable philanthropic practice, deeply grounded in collaborative relationship with movement organizations, following their lead and transferring power to frontline communities.

Our staff is an all-women-of-color team, and we are deeply aware that accountability to frontline, directly impacted communities must be more than a soapbox talking point. The absence of a dedicated structure to bring community to the table is a promise — not an actionable plan.

The AFF board seeks to change that. As a result, we decided to formally create the MPAC. The Council is an intergenerational, geographically diverse table of movement partners from across youth justice, child welfare, immigrant rights and gender justice organizations. MPAC members are also intermediaries, organizing policy and/or advocacy partners. They all have deep expertise and proven track records building power in communities, changing policy and practices that impact the youth and communities AFF serves.

The goal of the MPAC is to serve as a strategic partner that will provide guidance to the AFF staff and board in how we meet the AFF mission, vision and strategic plan. The MPAC will also inform our grantmaking, capacity-building and philanthropic organizing endeavors. As AFF continues to strengthen our accountability to the field and deepen our commitment to sharing power with frontline communities, we’re very excited about formalizing a vehicle to deepen relationships and commit to the regular practice of following the lead of movements.

Our vision is that the MPAC serve as a council of wise movement building experts who can inform our philanthropic strategy and practice, ensure staff and board are in lockstep with movements and maximize our resources, efforts, and time to improve outcomes for the youth we serve and the organizations we partner with.

In 2021, MPAC members will sit at the table alongside the AFF board in our strategic planning process, providing valuable insight into the revamping of our application and reporting processes, capacity building programing, communications and grantmaking strategies, and philanthropic organizing efforts. Together, we will articulate a collective vision and plan for how to better serve the young people we serve.

Please welcome the outstanding members of the inaugural MPAC — all AFF grantee partner leaders on the frontlines of fighting for Black, Brown, and Indigenous youth impacted by youth justice, child welfare and other disruptive systems. We are beyond honored to work together with our brilliant grantee leaders to deepen authentic, collaborative partnerships between philanthropy and movements.

Together,
Manuela Arciniegas
Director
Andrus Family Fund

CC Gardner-Gleser
Chair of the Board
Andrus Family Fund

A Letter to Foundation Trustees: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Show Up For Racial Justice

The year 2020 holds challenges for us all — a triple-layered challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the police killings and resulting uprisings calling out racial injustice and an economic recession. The upcoming shift in the political landscape provides hope, but the election also highlighted a known rift in a country that has not reckoned with its racist history. Arguably, the work and organizations funded by the Andrus Family Fund (AFF) are more critical than ever.  

This year also marks AFF’s 20th anniversary, which provided an opportunity for reflection and radical visioning. Our grantee partners have shown incredible resilience and serve as a source of inspiration in building power among like-minded groups, with an urgency that philanthropy isn’t used to. We understand that philanthropy is steeped in dominant culture and centers itself over the needs of community. We can no longer operate at this slower pace; we must be responsive. It is essential that change at the board level follows the pace of movement building or we will lose this moment. The building of this moment has happened over time; now is the time to trust community, listen to community and lean in. 

As we reflect on our role as a learning board and family fund, we commit to the hard work of organizing our peers — trustees. AFF board members, comprised of both family and community board members ages 25-45, have put together five recommendations to fellow trustees in family philanthropy to meet the current moment, all of which are rooted in action. These ideas are not new, but we want to lift them up resoundingly because we are on the journey to committing to bringing these recommendations to life.

We center two commitments above all else in our work as board members: (i) to create just and sustainable change rooted in a commitment to racial and social justice and (ii) to learn and commit to using our knowledge to bring about change — in ourselves, in our board rooms and in our communities. These values are reflected in the recommendations below:

1. Practice Trust-Based Philanthropy

  • The brilliance lives in the field and with the practice of our partners, not within foundation walls. Directly impacted communities hold the ideas and need resources to carry them out. 
  • Trustees are to trust in staff, and in turn, staff are to trust in grantee partners. Forgo the need to understand all strategies before trusting partners on-the-ground to experiment, innovate and lead with action.  
  • Shift the focus from transactional grant-making to deep, authentic relationship-building. Ask yourselves: how are we in service to our partners? Re-assess both strategic and operational aspects of the grant-making process to make sure it leads with deep care for movement organizations and their staff. 
  • Be careful not to center board members in this process. Ask not what board members want or need and instead center community. An explicit focus on social and racial justice will continue to shift the focus back to community.

 

2. Commit Long Term to Becoming Anti-Racist and Eradicating Anti-Blackness in our Institutions

  • AFF and Surdna recently made a commitment to become a fully inclusive, anti-racist organization. Our vision is an institution within a wider community that has overcome systemic racism and all other forms of oppression, with full participation and shared power from diverse racial, cultural and economic groups. We are humbly at the beginning of this journey.
  • Require both institutional and personal commitments. Individual commitments are necessary to examine internal bias, as well as to sit in the discomfort and do the work.
  • Work to build anti-racist cultures and processes across all levels of the institution. Learn about anti-racist practices and implement these practices throughout all corners of your foundation.  
  • Break up all-white spaces and ensure members across all identity groups are participants in decisions that shape an institution. Recognize where, why and how all-white spaces appear. In family philanthropy, this may be across all levels of an organization, or at the board and senior leadership level.  
  • Recognize that much of this work rests on the shoulders of white people. Without a commitment to anti-racism and fighting anti-blackness from white people, we become the barriers to progress.

 

3. Fight Complacency and Transcend Fatigue

  • Silence is violence — speak up about racism and anti-blackness on every level to hold both people and systems accountable. As Ibram X. Kendi has taught us, one must be actively anti-racist and not complacent to counter the forces of racism. Center anti-racism and social justice in your personal life and family relationships. Lean into vulnerability; there will be discomfort in this process — find your support team, regroup and keep at it!  
  • Cultivate a learning culture. Learning has been central to AFF’s evolution — from topics such as power, privilege and white supremacy to abolitionist strategies. Education with historical context is key, and helps prevent claims of ignorance or unawareness.  
  • Do not rely on staff — particularly BIPOC professionals — to “teach” board members; there is a balance between leveraging resources and expertise versus consuming the time and energy of staff.  
  • Reframe the concept of risk to promote action. What does it mean for a young, Black person on the front lines to bear risk? What does it mean for a white person close to resources, power and privilege to bear risk?

 

4. Take Bold Action

  • Ask questions and push for bold action as board members, including diversifying boards and exploring increased spending. 
  • Building on several of the themes listed above, family foundation boards should be encouraged to diversify boards by bringing on non-family and/or community board members. AFF embarked on this journey several years ago, recognizing the importance of living our values by extending the opportunity for board service to the broader community and bringing professionals with expertise and lived experience into decision-making roles. Today, AFF proudly has a community member serving as Chair of the board and a standing commitment to have three community board members. 
  • Institutions should also wrestle with the question of further supporting a well-funded endowment versus supporting communities in need. If not now, then when? Throughout 2020, AFF advocated for more dollars to flow to grantee partners. In the words of Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of the Highlander Research and Education Center, “fund us like you want us to win.” Grantees are on the frontlines and we want more dollars to be directed more quickly to critical movements supporting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We want them to win!

 

5. Leverage Relationships and Power

  • Educate and organize within your own communities. Have conversations with family members, friends and acquaintances. Make a personal commitment to do so long-term.  
  • Explore fundraising ideas and ask people you have relationships with for money. Look to partner organizations and directly impacted communities to inform how resources should be allocated, and follow their lead. Build on the themes around trust-based philanthropy, quickly removing barriers to access grants. Make it as easy and labor-free as possible to move resources.

 

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather highlight areas where a family foundation board has uncovered small wins in responding to the current moment. Grounded in our commitment to learning, we welcome continued conversation around what other family foundation trustees are doing to advance social and racial justice. If you’d like to sign on to this pledge, or request support in holding conversations around these ideas to your board, please reach out to us at info@affund.org.

Onward,
The AFF Board